The ‘Prince of Opera’ Bids Munich Farewell
Audiences, too, were eager. Before the pandemic, the company’s ticket sales hovered around 98 percent capacity. Wolfgang Heubisch, the Bavarian culture minister during Bachler’s early years in Munich, said that the house was an important contributor to the city’s economy, and that “we as an audience were always excited about the next performance.” (The company is supported by extravagant government subsidies, in 2019 to the tune of 71.8 million euros, or $85.2 million, from Bavaria and the city of Munich — nearly two-thirds of its budget.)
“You can sum it up in a nutshell,” Heubisch added. “Nikolaus Bachler was a true stroke of luck for Munich and the State Opera.”
It is rare for the leader of an opera company to be described in these terms. In Paris and New York, for example, such managers have recently been openly criticized by colleagues and embroiled in labor disputes. Elsewhere, they may be respected, but are seldom described with the loving language that singers, directors and others use for Bachler. But he is confident it’s time for change.
“You shouldn’t stay too long,” said Bachler, who is 70 but has the appearance and energy of someone much younger. “I got a lot of offers for other opera houses, but it was clear for me not to go into another big institution.”
By departing now, he can look back on his achievements without feeling like he ended stuck in routine, which he considers “against art.” He is proud of his insistence on marrying the prestige of directors and singers, with high-profile names from top to bottom on most billings and small roles taken by a superb ensemble of rising artists.
Bachler gained the respect of directors by not interfering too much in their work. (“My job is to take the consequences and learn from the failures,” he said.) And he won over the world’s most important singers with a personality that they have described as nurturing, honest and committed. For example, he made the Bavarian State Opera the home company of Kaufmann, who despite being raised and trained in Munich had only sung a handful of times in the house before Bachler joined.